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Israel's Grotesque System of Governance

Reader comment on item: Who Won in Israel's Elections?

Submitted by Prof. Paul Eidelberg (Israel), Feb 11, 2009 at 18:41

Thirty-four parties competed in Israel's February 10 election. This appears very democratic. But the truth is, the people of Israel have been effectively disempowered! Here's how.

Israel's government makes the entire country a single electoral district in which a multiplicity of parties compete for Knesset seats via Proportional Representation. This compels citizens to vote for party slates, not individual candidates. Hence, Knesset Members (MKs) are not individually accountable to the voters in regional elections. This enables MKs and the government to ignore public opinion with impunity.

This is exactly what Likud Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and 22 other Likud MKs did in October 2004 when they voted for Labor's policy of unilateral disengagement—a policy rejected by 70% of the public in the January 2003 election. Sharon effectively nullified that election and became Labor's surrogate prime minister!

I have examined the electoral systems of 89 countries classified (rightly or wrongly) as democracies. From a structural perspective, Israel, far from being a democracy, is a hybrid of prime ministerial government and judicial despotism.

No prime minister of any Labor- or Likud- or Kadima-led government has ever been removed from office by a Knesset vote of no confidence. Cabinet ministers know that if they reject a measure submitted by the prime minister, the government will fall, new elections will follow, and they may lose their cabinet posts and perquisites. This makes the prime minister a virtual autocrat.

As for judicial despotism, the Supreme Court's unprecedented dictum that "everything is justiciable" enables a few judges to violate the convictions of the Jewish people and nullify acts of the legislature as well as decisions of the executive affecting national security.

Consider the issue of a Palestinian state. Polls indicate that most Jews oppose a Palestinian state. Nevertheless, how politicians relate to this issue very much depend on whether they have religious convictions concerning Judea and Samaria. Animated by secularism, the Left in general, and Kadima in particular, advocate a Palestinian state. What about the "Right"?

Avigdor Lieberman, head of Israel Beiteinu, has cultivated the reputation of being a rightwinger. He's nothing of the sort. Lieberman joined and propped up the Olmert government, a leftwing government that should have fallen two years ago after the debacle of the Second Lebanon War. Moreover, Lieberman's plan to establish Arab cantons in Judea and Samaria would Arabize Judea and Samaria, Israel's heartland.

What about the reputedly rightwing Likud Party of Benjamin Netanyahu? Its position with respect to a Palestinian state may be identified with a plan set forth by former IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. General Moshe Yaalon, now a Likud MK. Yaalon's plan, outlined in a paper "Israel and the Palestinians: A New Strategy," does not unconditionally oppose a Palestinian state. Rather, he opposes withdrawal from parts of Israel before the Palestinians achieve the economic, political, and judicial infrastructure required to become a responsible state.

The PA, he says, must undergo a democratic metamorphosis. Needed, first, is economic prosperity among of the Palestinians. This is a precondition for cultivating a middle class society, which is typically inclined to moderation, the rule of law, and peace. Then only could Israelis and Palestinians arrive at a peaceful settlement of their conflict.

"Such a settlement," Yaalon admits, "will invariably involve painful concessions." These concessions would surely require Israel's abandonment of much or most of Judea and Samaria. However, "two conditions," he says, "must be met: first, unequivocal Palestinian recognition of Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state; and second, the establishment of Palestinian self-rule [my emphasis] on a solid economic, political, and security basis."

"Self-rule" is a euphemism for a Palestinian state. Yaalon knows the Palestinians will accept nothing less than statehood, if only because the entire international community is committed to a "two-state solution" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He admits the road to peace "is still very long. But sometimes the longer road is in truth the shorter one." This approach, he claims, is realistic. Realistic or not, it does not represent the will of a majority of the people.

But is it realistic to believe that economics will trump religion among the Palestinians—especially while Islam is gaining global power? Is it realistic to believe that economic prosperity will transform the Palestinians into bourgeois democrats?

On the other hand, if Yaalon's plan is not a manifestation of secular mysticism, that is, if he has not turned a blind eye to Islam's 1,400-year culture of hate, perhaps his plan is only a tactic, a stalling for time? The question then arises as to whether Israel's system of government is capable sustaining Yaalon's long term plan?

The average duration of an Israeli government is less than two years. Can such a transient government—a government consisting several rival parties—pursue a consistent and resolute national strategy? Hardly. But this means that Israel must replace multiparty cabinet government with a unitary executive or presidential system. Only such a government can, in principle, represent the will of the people of Israel.

Submitting....

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Daniel Pipes replies:

I agree: among democracies, Israel has the worst existing system, one in crying need of reform.

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Note: Opinions expressed in comments are those of the authors alone and not necessarily those of Daniel Pipes. Original writing only, please. Comments are screened and in some cases edited before posting. Reasoned disagreement is welcome but not comments that are scurrilous, off-topic, commercial, disparaging religions, or otherwise inappropriate. For complete regulations, see the "Guidelines for Reader Comments".

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